In 2009, Eastern Kentucky Foothills Eco-Agritourism, Inc.,(FEAT) proposed a conference entitled New Opportunities on the Farm to be held in West Liberty, Kentucky with participants from the five county area of Carter, Elliott, Morgan, Wolfe, and Menifee. The purpose of the conference was to bring together members of the five FEAT counties for the purpose of networking ideas to revitalize the local economy with the establishment of rural businesses and the implementation of existing businesses or supporting businesses that were engaged in agritourism. An average of 48 people attended the three day conference to share ideas and to attend workshops that would help them bring their idea to fruition as a true business. In 2010 FEAT held a conference entitled It’s Your Idea; Make It Pay, which encouraged citizens of our five county region to take responsibility for the local economy by taking a leadership role in entrepreneurship. In the summer of 2011 FEAT held a third conference entitled Building Business From the Ground Up, which featured local agritourism entrepreneurs doing power points of their agritourism venues. These businesses plus local artists, artisans, and crafters were allowed to showcase their products. The 2012 conference, tentatively entitled Moving Beyond Our Boundaries, will invite main stream media into our area to move knowledge of what our area has to offer to potential tourists beyond the local boundaries.
FEAT’s mission is to make the five county region of Carter, Elliott, Menifee, Morgan, and Wolfe a tourist and cultural destination built on natural resources, artisans,artists, authors, musicians, agritourism venues, adventure tourism venues, and preservation and heritage projects. Our logo is FIVE COUNTIES; ONE DESTINATION. The red circe denotes the blood of our ancestors who forged a life in our region. The blue circle denotes the clean air and water of our area, while the green circle signifies the beauty of our green spaces. In the center is FEAT, providing an energy to hold all the circles together. The circles themselves embody the circle of life in our Eastern Kentucky region. Through networking of the five counties, and knowing that one county alone can do little while five counties acting as one can do much, we will build an economy on Kentucky’s two major sources of income, tourism and agriculture.
The objective was to build community awareness of eco/agri-tourism as an alternative enterprise for landowners and other entrepreneurs and its connection to overall economic development. This was initiated by building and strengthening leadership teams to work within each county. The teams received information and training in the development and operation of eco-agritourism enterprises to share with landowners and other entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs were then connected to technical and other assistance as they developed their enterprises and activities. Awareness of opportunities available through Kentucky State government for value added products and agritourism ventures were introduced to new entrepreneurs. Networking across county lines was encouraged so the five counties could work in tandem. Marketing strategies were designed for the five county region. Successes in the area was celebrated and publicized. Eventually bus tours will be conducted through the five county region showcasing agritourism and supporting businesses such as locally owned lodging and restaurants
FEAT’s primary method was to make personal contact with locally owned businesses and offer them small group workshops which would help them market their business using 21st Century techniques such as websites and other social media, plus concrete knowledge of business plan development. These workshops were based on needs submitted by attendees to our 2010 Conference. Also, a team was organized in each of the five counties with one members serving as the head of the team. These teams meet and give their ideas to their chairman who then, as a FEAT Board Member, brings the ideas before the Board for a vote.
FEAT’s approach to education has been to offer small unit workshops in local areas where our people are not intimidated by strangers in strange places. Participants in these workshops are recruited by one-to-one contact so they will have a face to which they can relate when they arrive at the workshop.
FEAT has offered these workshops:
Photographing your product
Marketing your product
Pricing your product
Publishing a brochure
Three day workshop on creating a website
Five day workshop on business planning taught by Kentucky
Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute
These workshops allowed businesses from the various counties to enjoy first-time networking and share problems and ideas as well as spread the word about the various business from the far reaches of Carter County to the far reaches of Wolfe County.
In July the teams and other FEAT members are brought together to share successes, ideas, and needs during our annual conference.
Fifty plus business now share the umbrella of FEAT’s tutelage and the list grows each month as the word slowly travels across the region and new businesses are formed. Our conferences have included government and community leaders who are now dedicated to FEAT’s mission and have opted to buy-in to the program and make FEAT sustainable as FEAT works to be an economic boost for all involved. New businesses have been formed and existing businesses have increased in output and income. Businesses in all five counties are now networking across county lines and working toward mutual support.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Through workshops and encouragement new websites, brochures, and markets have been created. Business are now asking for information on creating Facebook pages. Several business now realize the value of brochures placed in venues along the byways of the region. The FEAT director writes a bi-weekly column advertising the work of FEAT and the opportunities offered to consumers by businesses associated with FEAT. This article appear in all five county papers. Articles addressing agritourism ideas, helpful business seminars, and success stories of agritourism venues are emailed to the membership body for education and encouragement. This, plus the FEAT Director’s and team members’s visits to Fiscal Courts, tourism councils, chambers of commerce, and other meetings of like entities have been our means to reach people in the rather large region.
From exposure to the Brushy Fork Institute during our 2010 conference, six teams from the five counties attended the Brushy Fork seminars in the fall of 2010 and received $10,000 grants for community projects. This brought a total of $60,000 into the local economy. With the advent of follow up projects and grants from the 2011 Brushy Fork Institute, FEAT has become a channel for bringing a total of $180,000 into the economy. These grant projects were all designed around capacity building and community involvement. FEAT is now affiliated with the State Department of Agritourism and Adventure Tourism which gives us statewide exposure and support.
FEAT has made the people of five distressed counties realize that the future of their region lies partially in their hands. The government cannot always be the hero and heroism lies within the will of each individual. Those who have been trained to look at new business paradigms are encouraged to be mentors to others in the region. When these small business owners from the five counties meet in one room, a spirit of cooperation rises among them, which is networking at its best. These business owners realize the power in numbers.
FEAT must work to remain a sustainable and viable resource for the people of Eastern Kentucky by increasing membership and partnerships. We must continue to offer educational opportunities that will change attitudes and determination. Our board and our county teams must be educated in leadership techniques that will make them more effective in recruiting and encouraging the people with whom thy relate in their area. The 2012 conference must use media exposure to introduce our region and what it has to offer the tourist trade to a broader network.